Kansas governor signs highway safety bills

| 5/31/2006

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has signed a handful of bills into law intended to make roadways in Kansas safer.

One new law requires people driving on a four-lane highway to move into the left lane before passing road crews or emergency vehicles that are parked by the road with their lights flashing. If it is not practical to merge into the furthest lane away from an emergency or construction vehicle, drivers must slow down on approach before passing.

The safety provision – S411 – takes effect in July. Violators will receive warnings – not tickets – until July 1, 2007. At that time, those found in violation would face a $180 fine.

Another bill signed into law, previously H2916, requires that drivers convicted of second, third or fourth drunken driving offenses to have their driver’s licenses suspended for two years. After the first year, those convicted could have their driving privileges restored if they can show proof of the installation of an ignition interlock device.

The devices provide immediate breath tests to determine if a driver has consumed alcohol.

The new rule takes effect July 1.

One other bill signed into law would establish more severe penalties for leaving the scene of an automobile accident.

The law, previously H2748, makes it a felony to leave the scene of an automobile accident where someone was seriously injured or killed. Under existing state law, leaving the scene of an injury accident is only a misdemeanor.

It also makes it a misdemeanor to leave the scene of an injury accident or accident with property damage in excess of $1,000.

Another provision in the bill mandates a practice that is second nature to most professional truck drivers and other motorists.

Drivers will be required to flip on their headlights whenever their windshield wipers are in “continuous use” due to rain, sleet or snow. They also will be required to have their headlights on when smoke or fog limits visibility to a distance of 1,000 feet.

To be ticketed for violating the rule, drivers first would need to be pulled over for another offense, such as speeding. It takes effect June 1.

Meanwhile, a similar effort in Wisconsin to require headlights to be illuminated when weather limits visibility failed passage. The bill remained in a Senate committee when the session ended this month. It passed the Assembly early this year.

Sponsored by Rep. John Ainsworth, R-Shawano, AB98 would have required lights to be on whenever visibility is limited. The bill defined that as “any time that climatic conditions limit visibility such that objects on a highway are not clearly discernible at 500 feet from the front of a vehicle.”

Fines would have been up to $20 for the first offense and as much as $50 for the second and subsequent offenses within a year.

The effort could be reintroduced in the legislative session that begins in January 2007.